I challenge you to visit a public setting with children and or teenagers present and observe. I predict you will see many smartphones and tablets. There is no question that the current generation of kids utilizes a lot more screen time than the previous generations (GenXers and Millennials). Jean Twenge, the author of “iGens: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us,” calls these kids, “super connected.”
In her book, Twenge outlines several behavioral differences that distinguish iGens from previous generations. “Born in 1995 and later,” she writes, “they grew up with cell phones, had Instagram pages before they started High School and do not remember a time before the Internet.”
Throughout “iGens,” Twenge highlights several characteristics of this generation. Some of these include: a prolonged adolescence, a decrease in in-person social interactions, an increased risk for mental health disorders. Additional, she reports an increased interest in safety and a decline in participation in religion as well as a decrease in drinking alcohol, sexual activity and dating.
Although Twenge cautions us to not see a strict causality between the increased use of the internet and these trends, the studies that she cites should make us take pause.
I wonder, though, if other cultural changes have contributed to the increased adolescent anxiety and isolation. Some of the more relevant changes have been: school shootings, the extreme political polarization, and maybe, just maybe a change in parental leadership and guidance in the home.
Many Millennials experienced similar pressures from TV and gaming systems and were tempted to spend all of their free time in front of a screen. Parents, however, implemented structure and guidelines to counter these temptations.
Most GenXers and Millennials were not encouraged to work, but expected to get jobs. This was followed with a checking account and the expectation that they would manage their own money.
Maybe, the more important questions to ask are: Is this a technology problem or an overconsumption and accessibility problem? And, what role do parents play in guiding and training kids in the use of this technology?
Twenge provides several practical remedies for this overconsumption problem. These include: delaying the age at which kids get smart phones, encouraging in-person interactions with peers, placing the smart phone at least 10 feet from the bed at night, and adding parent controls on the phone via apps. I can’t help but think that they need more. They need to learn the etiquette for using cell phones in public settings. They need to learn to put their phones “face down” when people are present. Kids need to learn to self-regulate the use of their phones.
Another strategy would be for parents to encourage activities that make it impractical for kids to engage in “phone behaviors.” This might involve outdoor activities, activities that involve the use of both hands, or activities that do not allow cell phone use.
“iGens” sounds the alarm. Kids need our help. Technology is rarely a bad thing, but overuse and misuse of this technology can be. Giving kids skills to address this technology can prevent some of the distress that they are experiencing today.
Mark K. Neese, LCSW, BCBA
True North Counseling
Disclaimer: I purchased this book with my own funds and no expectations from the author and/or publisher for a positive review.